Pulse of Oriental Medicine: Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks

Updated February 26, 2003

Ephedra Dangers Taught in Traditional Herbal Training


February 26, 2003

Brian Carter
The Pulse of Oriental Medicine

Ephedra Dangers Taught in Traditional Herbal Training

The Chinese medicine herb, ephedra (ma huang), has been misused by the supplement industry and misunderstood by both the press and biomedical community. The February 17th death of Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler brought national attention to both the risks of inappropriate ephedra usage and the dangers of an under-regulated supplement industry.

The use of ephedra for energy, athletic performance, or weight loss is not traditional. Chinese Medicine employs ephedra for asthma, coughing, wheezing, and the common cold. Ephedra played an essential part in the first systematic chinese herbal text, "On Cold Damage," written around 200 A.D. by Zhang Zhong-Jing.

Ephedra's dangers are well-documented in the traditional Chinese medical literature. According to Dan Bensky's "Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica," a standard academic textbook, ephedra may raise blood pressure or cause restlessness and tremors.

Like most Chinese herbs, ephedra is always prescribed within an herbal formula. The combination of herbs typical to chinese medicine allows gentler herbs to moderate harsher ones. Even so, Bensky's "Formulas & Strategies," says that the classic formula, "Ephedra Decoction" is contraindicated for weak patients with copious urination, patients prone to bleeding, and should be used with caution in cases of high blood pressure. These texts are studied by all chinese herbal students. The herbal combinations marketed by supplement companies are not traditional formulas.

Herbalists trained and licensed to prescribe chinese herbs such as ephedra usually attend 3-4 years of Traditional Chinese medicine college, graduate with a Masters degree, and pass minimum competency exams for licensing. Profiles of colleges that teach Chinese medicine are available from the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (http://www.ccaom.org/ or 301-313-0868).

Licensure that ensures competency in chinese herbs is regulated nationally by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (http://www.nccaom.org/ or 703-548-9004).

Each state has its own laws regarding the prescription of herbs. Some individual states have their own competency tests with even higher standards. For example, in California, both herbal and acupuncture competency are tested before an acupuncture license is awarded. See the California Acupuncture Board at http://www.acupuncture.ca.gov/index.html or 916-263-2680.


Join the PulseMed mailing list

Hey! Did you like this resource?


  • Then sign up for Being Well, our free monthly e-zine to stay current on the latest Pulse articles. Let's be honest: You might not remember to come back! Being Well is your helpful and informative reminder.
    Subscription is free and your email is private (never sold, never shared, spam is evil). If you change your mind, you can unsubscribe anytime. But you won't - you'll love every issue, right? You'll keep checking your email for the next one, right? (The right answers are yes and yes)
    >> Subscribe by sending a blank email (beingwellnewsletter-subscribe@topica.com).
    >> Or get more info first.


  • Browse the Pulse website for more information on Alternative Health. We cover loads of conditions and diseases, chinese medical therapies, acupuncture and more.
    >> Use the easy pull-down topic menus on the front page (up at the top where it says, 'quick jump to')


  • Make a suggestion about this article or the Pulse. Your criticisms will help us improve and bring you even better info in the future! Thanks ahead of time :)
    >> Email me your concerns and suggestions (bbcarter@pulsemed.org)

All the best!



All information herein provided is for educational use only and not meant to substitute for the advice of appropriate local experts and authorities.
Copyright 1999-2074, Pulse Media International